Described as one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Golden Gate Bridge has attracted tourists from across the globe for over 80 years.
But for the past year, many visitors have noticed a strange humming sound emitted from the bridge on windy days. And while this may be a cause of annoyance for residents living nearby – with one describing it as fit to “torture prisoners” – guitarist Nate Mercereau has used it as a source of inspiration.
In a new project entitled Duets | Golden Gate Bridge, the LA musician, together with Bay Area engineer Zach Parkes, has compiled a series of avant-garde compositions, which utilize the bridge's ethereal hum as a backing track underneath the layered sounds of his electric guitar – Mercereau's use of volume swells and slide playing complement the bridge's eerie drone.
He explains: “I saw a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle (opens in new tab) that said the Golden Gate Bridge ‘humming is driving people crazy’, and ‘a team of engineers are working to shut it up’.
However, after he heard a recording of the mystical humming sound he “knew there was potential to reframe these sounds as something unique and beautiful”.
According to Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz, a Golden Gate Bridge district spokesman, the din began last summer when new railing slats were installed on the bridge's western side. “It was part of a Golden Gate Bridge retrofit designed to protect the bridge for future generations by allowing it to withstand sustained high winds up to 100mph,” he recently told The Guardian (opens in new tab).
Describing the bridge as “the largest wind instrument in the world”, Mercereau – who has worked with the likes of Jay-Z, Leon Bridges and John Legend – says “there is nothing quite like hearing something so vastly large make that much sound powered by nature”.
“The tones smear and crescendo as the wind picks up, and it gets so loud that at some point you can feel you own body vibrate with it,” he continues.
He does, however, acknowledge the “pain of San Francisco residents who are constantly subjected to this drone”.
In terms of the actual recording process, Mercereau and Parkes had a tough time properly capturing the hum.
“Even driving up, I knew there was a chance that this might not work,” Mercereau explains. “All we had to go on was this weather report that said there was going to be wind.”
He continues: “When the wind is really howling, that really ups the difficulty level of recording it,” he explains. “So we were kind of putting these field recorders under our shirts with headphones on, trying to listen and trying to block the wind, and find the best spots.”
In light of the district's plans to silence the bridge, the guitarist says he “won't have an issue if it stops”, but that he will “also miss it”.